McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

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McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- On Wednesday, for the third time in the last week, Daniel Bard lost a game in the late innings for the Red Sox. The 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, like the two games before it, was clearly a costly one for the Sox.

Had Bard locked down the 4-2 lead with which he was entrusted in the eighth, the Sox would sport a five-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, rather the four-game edge they currently maintain.

For that matter, had Bard performed against the Toronto Blue Jays last Wednesday, Tim Wakefield would have earned his 200th career victory six days earlier. And had he not surrendered the 10th-inning base hit to Evan Longoria three days later -- the game was tied at the time after the Red Sox pulled even with two ninth-inning homers -- the Sox perhaps would not have been swept at Tropicana Field.

Either way, they would have been closer to the front-running Yankees and safely distant from the hard-charging Rays.

Resolved, then: Bard's had a bad week, In the bigger picture, he's had a disappointing month. His slump has been almost as puzzling as the reaction the slump has generated.

Some have taken this relatively small sample size -- four poor outings since Sept. 1 -- and used it as evidence that Bard is ill-suited to become the Red Sox' closer of the future, in turn necessitating the re-signing of Jonathan Papelbon.

Those people have it only half-right.

The Red Sox should re-sign Papelbon this offseason. Their motivation, however, has nothing to do with projecting Bard as his replacement.

Instead, the Red Sox should view the two as a tandem, two equally essential parts to late-inning success.

"I'm nothing without him,'' asserted Jonathan Papelbon Thursday, "and he's nothing without me."

Papelbon's logic is unassailable. The Sox desperately need Bard to get them to Papelbon and the ninth. And they need Papelbon to be the last line of defense when a late-inning lead -- and by extension, the game itself -- is one the line.

To suggest that the last handful of outings are some sort of proof Bard can't handle the pressure is absurd. Where were Bard's lack of nerves when he was stranding 29-of-32 baserunners into late August?

Bard's role as the primary set-up man is, in some significant ways, far more difficult than Papelbon's. While Papelbon usually enters a clean inning with no outs and no baserunners and often has to protect a lead of two or three runs, Bard frequently is called upon to clean up someone else's mess.

It's a role he's filled expertly -- until the last two weeks. Papelbon would have anywhere near the number of save opportunities he's had without Bard clearing the dreck in the seventh or eighth innings.

Laugh if you must at the "hold'' stat -- in the age of advanced metrics, it's hopelessly inadequate. But think of holds as the set-up version of a save: occasionally misleading and open to interpretation, but mostly meaningful.

If closers are ultimately judged by the number of times they successfully preserve a lead (measured in saves), then set-up men are similarly charged with maintaining the lead they've been given (measures in holds).

And on the matter of holds, Bard is second in the league. He's also the only Red Sox reliever since 1969 to have two seasons of 31 or more holds. Bard set the franchise record with 32 in 2010. Even with his recent struggles, he has the second-best WHIP among qualifying American League relievers.

The last two weeks excepting, Bard does his job so well that it would be ludicrous to ask him to do anything else. And having him replace Papelbon would be doubly ludicrous, since it would mean that the Sox would then need someone to replace Bard himself.

Those high-leverage innings are more diffucult to navigate than many save situations.

Conversely, until a pitcher has successfully walked the ninth-inning tightrope, then it can't automatically be assumed that Bard can necessarily do Papelbon's job. Recent baseball history is littered with guys who thrive in the seventh or eighth, but stumble in the ninth. (And a good morning to you, Mike Timlin).

That's why the answer isn't for the Red Sox to allow Papelbon to leave while slipping Bard into the closer's spot. Instead, the Sox should extend Papelbon -- either through arbitration for what surely would be a record award for a relief pitcher, or in a two- or three-year deal that would reward Papelbon with a better AAV (average annual value) in excess of his current 12 mullion.

Such a contract would enable Papelbon to boast of his salary standard-setting status, while protecting the Red Sox from the vagaries of long-term contracts for over-30 closers.

The notion that Bard's recent run of blown saves is indicative of some character flaw, and not what it so obviously is -- nothing more than a bad stretch -- is laughable. When Papelbon led the A.L. in blown saves last year,it didn't prevent him from returning this year and enjoying his best season since 2008.

Retaining Papelbon is critical, of course, but not because the Red Sox lack options at closer for 2012, but rather, because it would give them the best of both worlds in the bullpen.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

BOSTON -- At first, 2016 seemed like the “Year of Xander.” It turned out to be the “Year of Mookie,” with Bogaerts dropping off a little as the season progressed.

The Red Sox shortstop saw his average peak at .359 on June 12. At that point he’d played in 61 games, hit eight home runs, 20 doubles and knocked in 44 runs. Although Mookie Betts had six more home runs and three more RBI in that same span, Bogaerts had six more doubles and was hitting 69 points higher.

The two were already locks for the All-Star Game and Bogaerts still had the edge in early MVP talk.

Then things took a turn after the very day Bogaerts saw his average peak.

Over the next 61 games, Bogaerts still managed seven homers, but only had six doubles and 27 RBI, watching his average drop to .307 by the end of that stretch. At first glance, .307 doesn’t seem like an issue, but he dropped 52 points after hitting .253 in that span.

And in his remaining 35 games, Bogaerts only hit .248 -- although he did have six homers.

But throughout it all, Bogaerts never seemed fazed by it. With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Bogaerts still isn’t worried about the peaks and valleys.

“You go through it as a player, the only one’s who don’t go through that are the ones not playing,” Bogaerts told CSNNE.com before the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday. “I just gotta know you’re going to be playing good for sometime, you’re going to be playing bad for sometime.

“Just try to a lot more better times than bad times. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself, trusting your abilities and never doubting yourself. Obviously, you get a lot of doubts when you’re playing bad, but you just be even keeled with whatever situation is presented.”

Bogaerts level head is something often noted by coaches and his teammates, carrying through the days he finds himself lunging left and right for pitches. That’s also carried him through the offseason while maintaining the same preparation from past seasons -- along with putting on some weight.

“I don’t know how much I put on, but I feel strong,” Bogaerts said to CSNNE.com “I mean, I look strong in the mirror.

“Hopefully, I’m in a good position when the season comes because I know I’ll lose [the weight].”

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

BOSTON - The weight room, as much as Instagram, has been Pablo Sandoval’s home in the offseason leading up to the 2017 season.

His change in diet and routine have clearly led to visible results, at least in terms of appearance. His play is yet to be determined. But his manager and teammates have taken notice.

“Compliments to Pablo,” John Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner. “He’s done a great job with the work that he’s put in, the commitment he’s made. He’s reshaped himself, that’s apparent. He knows there’s work to be done to regain an everyday job at third base. So, we’ll see how that unfolds. We’re not looking for him to be someone he’s not been in the past. Return to that level of performance.”

Farrell noted that Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are the other two players in contention for time at third base and while others, such as prospect Rafael Devers, may get time there in the spring, those are the only three expected to compete for the job.

“The beauty of last spring is that there’s a note of competition in camp,” Farrell said. “And that was born out of third base last year [when Travis Shaw beat out Sandoval at the third base]. That won’t change.”

Sandoval's 2016 season ended after shoulder surgery in April. 

While the manager has to be cautiously optimistic, Sandoval’s teammates can afford to get their hopes up.

“Pablo is definitely going to bounce back,” Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com “Especially with the weight he’s lost and the motivation he has to prove a lot of people wrong, to prove the fans wrong.

“He’s been a great player for his whole career. He’s not a bad player based on one year. Playing in Boston the first year is tough, so, hopefully this year he’ll be better.”

Prior to Sandoval’s abysmal 2015, his first season in Boston, when he hit .245 with 47 RBI in 126 games, the 2012 World Series MVP was a career .294 hitter who averaged 15 home runs and 66 RBI a year.

If Bogaerts is right and Sandoval can be that player again, that will be a huge lift in filling in the gap David Ortiz left in Boston’s offense.